A More Transparent Peer Review Process?

In the scholarly publishing industry, the professionals that are conducting peer reviews are both under appreciated and under represented.  A quality peer review process, and the corresponding transformation between a submitted paper and the final published product, is fundamental to maintaining a reputable journal.

However, the lack of transparency within the peer review process itself is a recurring topic in the research community.  Often times researchers are not aware of when the review process has started, what work has been done, or who is conducting the review.

There is, in fact, no “peer review for peer review”. This lack of editorial oversight, and lack of transparency, has only been exasperated by the dearth of available reviewers and the increase in articles submitted for publication over the past decade.

After years of discussion, a solution may be emerging from within the publishing community. The solution addresses the problem through the use of blockchain technology.

Springer Nature, along with Cambridge University Press and Taylor & Francis are collaborating on a new initiative titled Blockchain for Peer Review. The concept, which is still in the pilot phase, is a blockchain based peer review process in which all steps in the process are annotated in the ledger and transparent.

The initiative is innovative and a potential game changer. If the pilot is successful, other publishers will be invited to participe. Scientists will be able to see who is reviewing their research, the process by which it is reviewed and even dialog among the reviewers related to the article.

There are, of course, concerns. Critics say that there are good reasons to keep peer review anonymous. If the dialog between reviewers is made public, will it change their conversation? If scientists are aware of who is actively reviewing their article, could there be subtle ways to influence the outcome?

Much if these concerns will be addressed during the pilot. The concept may, in fact, not even be viable. However if it succeeds, it has the potential to be a change agent that is the catalyst for other major changes in the prepublication process.


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